Friday, May 2, 2014

Free Enterprise Has an Anti-Discrimination Effect

Even within the artificially restricted markets left to them by Jim Crow segregation, some American blacks of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were able to find opportunities for economic success. Arthur G. Gaston was born in 1892 in a log cabin his grandparents, former slaves, built in rural Marengo County, Alabama. After the early death of her husband, Gaston’s mother moved to Birmingham in 1900 to be a cook for A.B. and Minnie Loveman, founders of what would later become the state’s largest department store chain.

Young Gaston, an admirer of Booker T. Washington, worked a number of odd jobs, including selling subscriptions for the local black newspaper. Later, he moved to Mobile and became a bellhop. After serving in the army during World War I, Gaston came home and took a job at the Tennessee Coal and Iron Co. Always looking for opportunities, he began selling box lunches (prepared by his mother) and peanuts and lending money to workers at the TCI plant. He started a burial society for the workers, too, which eventually acquired a mortuary and became Smith and Gaston Funeral Directors. In 1932, the burial society was incorporated as Booker T. Washington Insurance Co.

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